With my long runs lasting past the 2 hour point (and even my “shorter” runs hitting an hour), I’ve branched out beyond listening solely to music, and now spend the first half of my runs listening to Tedtalks, podcasts or books on tape.
Saturday, as I moved into mile 5 of 10, my queue hit on Diana Nyad’s Tedtalk about swimming from Cuba to Florida.
As a former competitive swimmer, I celebrated with Nyad when she successfully completed her swim, so I was interested to hear what she had to say.
As I listened to her, I started crying. I couldn’t help it. I hit mile 5, mile 6, moved into mile 7, and the tears streamed down my face. It was like she was speaking directly to me.
“Never, ever give up.” I live it. What’s the phrase from today from Socrates? To be is to do. So I don’t stand up and say, don’t ever give up. I didn’t give up, and there was action behind these words.
Even before the events of the past couple years, I have never put much stock in words, but action. That may seem weird for someone so obsessed with language, as both a teacher and writer, but when it comes to matters of integrity, of principle, of character, I think words are cheap.
Words are cheap. This I know.
What matters is what you do. Not how you feel, not what you say in a moment of anger, or pain, or weakness. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. People, I have found, as a general rule, stop listening to what you say or believing what you profess, but instead, watch what you do.
The Henry David Thoreau quote goes, when you achieve your dreams, it’s not so much what you get as who you have become in achieving them. And yeah, I stand before you now. In the three months since that swim ended, I’ve sat down with Oprah and I’ve been in President Obama’s Oval Office. I’ve been invited to speak in front of esteemed groups such as yourselves. I’ve signed a wonderful major book contract. All of that’s great, and I don’t denigrate it. I’m proud of it all, but the truth is, I’m walking around tall because I am that bold, fearless person, and I will be, every day, until it’s time for these days to be done.
I don’t know what the future holds for me, or for my children. I know they struggle, just as I do, with circumstances outside their control. I don’t know if there will ever be an “endpoint”, a finish line at the end of the race, where I can triumphantly say Victory is mine.
Life is messy. People make terrible choices. Bad things happen to good people, and vice versa.
But this much I know. In all the most important ways, I have already succeeded. Because I’m still swimming, or running, or whatever sports metaphor works for you. I don’t give up, ever. I wake up every single morning, determined to make the best possible choices.
Some days I knock it out of the ballpark. Some days I strike out. But I have to believe, I choose to believe, that in the end, that’s what matters.
Fail four times. Try five.
Never, ever give up.